The actress Adriana Lecouvreur is admired by many, including stage manager Michonnet. But she loves a soldier in the service of Maurizio, Count of Saxony – little realizing that her lover is the Count himself. Maurizio, entranced by Adriana, is desperately trying to extricate himself from his former lover, the Princess de Bouillon.
The Princess discovers Maurizio's relationship with Adriana and sends her a nosegay of violets impregnated with poison. Adriana dies in Maurizio's arms.
The death of French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur (1692–1730) inspired countless plays and operas, of which Francesco Cilea's Adrianna Lecouvreur (1902) is the finest and most enduring. The opera would become Cilea's greatest success, renowned particularly for the eponymous heroine's arias 'Io son l'umile ancilla' in Act I and 'Poveri fiori' in Act IV – though Cilea's atmospheric and elegant score offers much more besides, with Maurizio's aria 'La dolcissima effigie sorridente', the Act III ballet and Adriana's intense spoken recitation at the end of Act III particular highlights.
David McVicar's 2010 production was The Royal Opera's first since 1906. With set designer Charles Edwards, McVicar re-created a working baroque theatre, similar to the 18th-century Comédie Française in which the real Adrienne would have performed. Sumptuous period costumes designed by Brigitte Reiffenstuel complete a spectacular production that delves into the intoxication of the theatre.